City’s sudden attention to infrastructure improvement is just part of the tax measure campaign – don’t be fooled, it won’t last beyond November 8

16 Aug

My husband and I use the Mangrove/Pine-Cedar/Mulberry/Fair Street corridor often, most of the businesses we patronize are in the south end of town. For years I’ve watched those streets deteriorate, potholes growing larger, sidewalks and curbstones crumbling. While the city used RDA money to put streets, drainage, and sidewalks in new subdivisions, they deferred maintenance on older streets in historic neighborhoods in favor of paying millions toward their pension deficit.

I don’t know if you’ve ever crossed that bridge over Little Chico Creek there where Mulberry splits into Cedar and Pine, but I’ve looked at it dozens and dozens of times, and the guard rail is falling off in places. It’s been falling off for yeeeeeaaaars.

Recently we were headed over to the lumber yard when we drove into a jobsite at that same intersection. Boy howdy, they are tearing up the streets, got traffic cones directing everybody like an amusement park entrance. Spray painted symbols all over the pavement, the sidewalks, gutters and curbs. It’s obvious the pavement is eons old, like, older than me even.

A few years ago I attended a few installments of a series of “informational talks” former asst city manager Chris Constantin was giving, speaking to each city commission about the infrastructural needs of our city, roads, sewer, etc. He said road maintenance had been deferred for years, and duh, anybody who has lived in Chico for more than five years would tell you that. Constantin also reported that it would take 100’s of millions and years to bring it all back to function.

Some of our infrastructure dates back to our grandparent’s time. And I’m 62, so I’m talking, many of your great grandparents’ time. For example, the Guynn Avenue bridge, which has been closed for a few years now because it is completely out of date, so narrow it won’t accommodate two way traffic, unless you’re driving a horse. From the city website:

 The bridge is located between East Avenue and West Lindo Avenue, near the western edge of the City limits. The existing one-lane bridge provides a vital link between the Cussick Area Neighborhood and The Avenues, as it is one of only two vehicular crossings of Lindo Channel between Esplanade and Nord Avenue. The existing bridge is an 86-foot long, single-span, steel Warren pony truss bridge. The bridge suffers from the following deficiencies:

  • The bridge has significantly reduced load carrying capacity and can no longer bear the weight as originally intended.
  • There is paint loss/cracking and rust on multiple steel members, including the main trusses of the bridge.
  • The northwest wingwall has cracked and is beginning to fail.
  • The bridge width does not meet current safety standards for cars and first responder vehicles.

The reason this bridge has not been replaced to date, despite the fact it is a “vital link” for the neighborhood, leaving only one other bridge crossing Lindo Channel between Esplanade and Nord Ave, creating longer drive times for neighbors and congestion at other crossings, is that the city did not have any money in their streets fund. Our streets fund. All the funds have been raided systematically for years, millions a year, to make the “side fund” or “extra” payments to CalPERS. So they had to wait for funding. According to the project timeline, they received funding in 2021, but they won’t begin construction until 2023?

I hear a lot at these meetings about the cost of asphalt, Constantin mentioned it in his briefings. I looked at something called the “Asphalt Price Index,” and what I did understand, is that the price of asphalt is linked to the price of oil, and yeah, it goes up every year. But there have been spike years, and yeah, those years seem to coincide with tax campaigns. During the 2018 campaign to get us to raise the gas tax (SB1), the price of asphalt went up wildly as CalTrans put their crews out on the road, fixing freeways and roads all over the state. Every jobsite had a sign saying, “Your SB 1 $$$ at work!”

According to the index, asphalt prices are spiking again, as of earlier this year. So the longer the city waits to do their projects, the more they defer maintenance, the more expensive it gets.

And like the state, Chico staff and council are campaigning for a tax increase. They’ve admittedly deferred street maintenance for years, and now, all the damned sudden, they’re tearing up streets around town, fixing sidewalks. And here’s another thing worth mention – they’re not doing it with city money, they’re doing it with state and federal grants, meaning, these jobs will take years.

Here’s the city wide project that includes the work I’ve seen on Mulberry – all these current projects are federally funded:

Here’s a list of projects either underway or in planning

Notice, most of these projects are on hold, “in the design phase…” That’s not really true, the truth is, they don’t have funding. They have gutted the streets fund for years to pay down the pension deficit, so they have to wait for grants to become available, and compete with many other towns to get them. Also notice, the projects that are “under construction” are all funded with state or federal grants.

I don’t expect this sudden burst of attention to duty will last beyond the November election, regardless of the outcome of the election. Look at the record, look what has been a constant for years. We’ve been through “conservative” councils and “liberal” councils, and the only constant has been the paying down of the pensions with money siphoned out of all the funds at the expense of our infrastructure.

POST SCRIPT: I was re-reading the Butte County Grand Jury report for 2019-20, here’s an excerpt from the Chico report:

For fiscal year 2019/20, $2.5 million is budgeted for Capital Expenditures which includes road maintenance/repair. The Gas Tax Fund (Fund 307) funds road work/repairs. Fiscal year 2019/20 Fund 307 revenue is $4.8 million. 

I think that tells the story – $4.8 million in gas tax revenues, only $2.5 million budgeted for Capital Expenditures, including road maintenance. What we need, are more people asking where the rest of that gas tax money went.

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